I do, part two: Why couples decide to renew their vows

By Linda Marx / New York Times News Service

AFTER a decade or two of marriage, what could possess someone to hire a party planner, caterer, florist and officiant, and then surprise a spouse with a ceremony and reception in which they renew their vows in front of several dozen of their closest friends?

With divorce rates and separation being what they are, some couples who have stuck it out are finding ways to celebrate—and possibly strengthen—their relationships through a splashy, public affirmation. These recommitment parties, often called renewal of vows, are typically led by an officiant and are intended, said James Sacco, a wedding and events consultant, to signal to “their family and friends that their marriage still works.”

And it represents a growing business for wedding spaces, as well as planners like Sacco, who works at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Out of the 56 weddings we have done this past year, at least 16 were vows renewals,” he said.

Dr. Daniel Bober, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the Yale University Child Study Center, said, “Whether couples renew vows to undo sins of the past, or add more romance to their lives by breaking up the routine of marriage, I see an uptick in this area.”

After 10 years of marriage, Josh Woods wanted to surprise his wife, Tiffany, with a vows renewal ceremony last June 23 that he secretly planned at a waterfront setting near Key West, Florida.

“Tiffany and I constantly talk about how many of our friends are divorced, and how lucky we are to have found happiness, so I decided to give her a real surprise for our 10th wedding anniversary,” said Woods, 36, the owner of a kitchen countertop business in Indianapolis.

Woods had arranged for an officiant to lead the ceremony, a photographer to capture it, and a small group of friends to witness it on Sunset Key, a private island where sea gulls line the pier and foghorns moan in the distance.

As Tiffany Woods, 34, was off having a massage before what she thought was an anniversary dinner, Josh Woods had a box delivered with the white sundress, shoes and the pearls she had worn for their Indiana wedding August 17, 2006. In addition, he said he hired a professional to do her hair and makeup and added a note “saying we would have a romantic waterfront dinner on Sunset Key.”

He knew his surprise was seamless when after the ceremony, Tiffany Woods beamed and exclaimed, “I am shocked and thrilled.”

Vows renewals tend to be more relaxed than weddings, and generally have 60 to 75 people as opposed to weddings of 200 people, Sacco said.

Rachael Ray, 47, the television food star, and her husband, the lawyer and rock musician John Cusimano, 48, hosted a vows renewal weekend in September 2015 at Castello di Velona, the Tuscan castle where they married in 2005. The New York-based couple flew nearly 100 close family members and friends, including chef pals from the Food Network like Guy Fieri and Anne Burrell, to Italy so they could share the experience.

“We wanted to have another reception with our new and extended family and friends,” said Ray, who wore a Reem Acra gown and received a new black diamond ring by Itay Malkin from her husband. The event included Ray’s sister-in-law as matron of honor and a niece as flower girl. Her pit bull Isaboo walked her down the aisle.

“I finally got to eat some wedding cake,” Ray said about her four-layer confection. “I missed out on ours the first time.”

Other couples want to celebrate their renewals totally differently than their weddings, not as their parents expected.

Couples renewing their vows tend to “have new ideas on how to celebrate their unions, and it’s often done with guests who may not have been at the original wedding,” said Racquel Kristi, owner of an event production company in Columbia, Maryland, who reports that about 30 percent of her wedding business are vows renewals.

In the case of Dennis Cunningham, 51, the vows renewal he organized in Wellington, Florida, last Saint Patrick’s Day for his second wife, Felicia Cunningham, 30, was also intended to show those attending the man he had become.

“I was an immature, absent husband and father,” he said of his first marriage. Now six years into his second marriage, Cunningham, chief executive of Perfect Vodka, wanted to celebrate with his two older daughters, Amy, 21, and Amanda, 19, from his first union; his new daughter, Addison, and 15 invited friends. The brief renewal ceremony was at the end of a romantic dock on the grounds of a polo club.

“I have become a much calmer person and realize family is more important than anything else,” Cunningham said.

Renewing vows cannot necessarily fix a broken marriage. But it can, as Celeste Catania-Opris, a marriage therapist in Coral Springs, Florida, suggests, be part of a therapeutic approach. She said the sessions she has had with couples have led to six of them to formally renew their vows.

“In an effort to help each of them rekindle those early feelings, I tell them to think back on how they felt when they walked down the aisle,” Catania-Opris said, which has helped “take them from a negative place to a positive place.”

As with a wedding, planning a significant ceremony like a renewal is a major commitment of time and money. “Many couples wait to do this years later to celebrate a big anniversary,” said Celia Milton, a nondenominational officiant in North Haledon, New Jersey. While a milestone like an anniversary may provide the initial incentive to plan a vows renewal, sometimes a different kind of milestone will do it.

Wendy and Amzad Lalani, married for 30 years, longed for an elegant renewal that was the opposite of their February 28, 1986, courthouse ceremony. But they worried about spending money on such an event.

Overhearing their mother talk about a grand renewal, the Lalani children, Adam, 26, and Sarah, 24, decided to step up and plan one for them.

Their son presented a web site he created as an invitation for guests to attend the renewal at a local event space last February 28. “We were flabbergasted,” said Wendy Lalani, 49, a customer service supervisor for Waste Management in Florida. “It was such a surprise.”

Amzad Lalani, 54, a retail store-manager, offered to contribute, but the children had paid for and planned every detail of the night.

“We had dreamed of having the glitz and glamour we missed on our wedding night 30 years ago, and we got it,” Wendy Lalani said. “All we did was show up and have fun.”

Even couples who have overcome health problems, as was the case with the 30-year marriage of Roxanna and Bill Trinka, can find new joy in a public renewal of their vows. “My being a 14-year breast-cancer survivor, together with my long history of having a wonderful and caring husband, was why I wanted to renew,” said Roxanna Trinka, 56, who is the president and chief executive of Baseline Engineering in Boca Raton, Florida.

When the couple learned that Bill Trinka, a 56-year-old retired firefighter, still had family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where his great-grandparents had been married, they decided on a small, spiritual walk down the aisle there last May. About 30 members of Bill Trinka’s family and congregants gathered at the Fitzroy Presbyterian Church for the brief ceremony, which included the reading of an Irish poem about love and commitment.

“Bill was very emotional,” said Roxanna Trinka, who wore a beaded gown. “We both felt it was the most spectacular day of our lives.”


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